Every time we have one of these increasingly frequent ritualized killing sprees in the United States, we have essentially the same national conversation. And then nothing happens. Between the First and Second Amendments as currently understood, mass murder may as well be a constitutional right.
Arguments about guns have been worn so threadbare that people may as well be having them in their sleep. Observing friends bickering on Facebook, I wondered what was the point?
To start with, guns will never be banned entirely. Saying they should be only empowers crackpots. So shut up with that, alright?
The Second Amendment, however, consists of one twenty-six word sentence, two of which are "well-regulated." Furthermore, it was written to protect a citizen's right to own a single-shot, muzzle-loading musket with an effective range of fewer than 50 yards. I'm all for that. No limits.
However, the notion that it'd be an impediment to liberty to limit ownership of semi-automatic assault rifles with 100-shot magazines, or to make it harder to buy 6,000 rounds of ammo online strikes me as not merely foolish, but downright childish.
So when I read about somebody like Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain gun owners, telling reporters there's no need to inconvenience "law-abiding sportsmen and target shooters [who] ... can easily blow through 400 or 500 rounds in one vigorous day at a shooting range," I just want to say: How about growing up? Do you think your kid should be able to buy booze online?
To me, target shooting's kind of a harmless, dorky hobby like bowling. But people should have to buy their ammo the same way I buy Irish whiskey: live and in person from somebody with a responsibility to deny service (and to report) obviously impaired individuals.
As for military assault rifles, I'd put it this way: As much as I like cats, I've sometimes thought it'd be cool to have a pet lion. However, I realize it'd be anti-social and borderline crazy. So's letting anybody with a driver's license own an AR-15 or AK-47. Surveys show most responsible gun-owners agree. Alas, they don't vote that way.
What's more, as fond as I am of revenge comedies like "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon," this fantasy some of you have about fighting it out against totalitarian government agents with a hot young thing by your side ...
Well, that's all it is, a daydream. And daydreams have a way of growing malignant. NRA-inspired scenarios of citizen-gun owners taking down the Aurora shooter—outfitted in a gas mask and more protective gear than the Navy Seals who took down Osama bin Laden — have no basis in reality.
Will Saletan got it right in Slate: "Holmes didn't just kill a dozen people. He killed the NRA's answer to gun violence."
So shouldn't the media quit giving mass murderers the notoriety they crave? My first instinct was to agree with Roger Ebert, in the New York Times. "I'm not sure there is an easy link between movies and gun violence, he wrote. "I think the link is between the violence and the publicity. ... I don't know if James Holmes cared deeply about Batman. I suspect he cared deeply about seeing himself on the news."
Grandiosity is a big part of the delusions that drive these spree killers. "Mass shooting cases have the common motive of an attacker seeking immortality," writes forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner. "Each of the attackers has different degrees of paranoia and resentment of the broader community."
Wouldn't we be better off if the news media covered these atrocities the way they cover drunk drivers who run off the highway and die at 3 a.m.? That is, with a brief paragraph on page 3B.
Alas, that's never going to happen. Anderson Cooper's refusal to pronounce the killer's name amidst CNN's 24/7 coverage of the Colorado tragedy may have been a heartfelt gesture, but a futile one. For better and worse, people do want to know.
This too: It's a good bet we'll learn that the Aurora shooter — a Phd candidate in neuroscience — came into contact with many people who knew or should have known that something had gone dreadfully wrong.
Like most states, Colorado law permits any adult to petition a sanity investigation. Should a police officer or qualified social worker find what amounts to psychological probable cause, an individual can be held in a psychiatric facility for 72 hours pending a court hearing.
If the court finds that person gravely disabled or a threat, hospitalization and treatment can be required. Romantic notions of liberty aside, psychosis has no rights. Alas, too few people in our increasingly lonely, fragmented society feel a duty to intervene.
As at Penn State, it's always easier to tiptoe away.